Puerto Rico telecom infrastructure must also be rebuilt for resiliency
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the April 12-18, 2018, issue of Caribbean Business.
While most everyone in Puerto Rico is talking about the island’s fragile energy grid destroyed by hurricanes Irma and María, they also tend to forget that the telecommunications infrastructure was also wiped out.
Puerto Rico, in that regard, could serve as a warning to the mainland United States for failing to rebuild its existing infrastructure to more resilient standards.
Paul Horgan, head of North America Commercial Insurance for Zurich Insurance company, a global firm that provides services to 80 percent of Fortune 500 businesses, said during a recent visit that Puerto Rico is really an example of what is also happening in the United States “where we have a history of a lack of investment in infrastructure and its useful life is currently running out.”
“The U.S. mainland infrastructure may not be in imminent danger of a comparable catastrophe, but with increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Harvey, multiple Nor’easters, wildfires and flooding in the Midwest, [the situation] cannot continue to be ignored,” Horgan said.
Horgan stressed the need to build infrastructure in a resilient manner. Studies have shown in the United States that $1.2 trillion is wasted by businesses because of failed infrastructure, including $26 billion in losses caused by congested or failing roads that prevent prompt shipment of products.
Proposed federal infrastructure legislation that would pour in money for projects is still in the making. Besides the energy grid, which the government is trying to completely overhaul to ensure it is reliable, José “Pepe” Izquierdo, chairman of the Public Buildings Authority, said telecommunications is another example of the island’s biggest infrastructure challenges seven months after the hurricanes.
“We knew it but did not realize it until we lost our communications infrastructure. Lots of antennas were blown away. Puerto Rico’s [communications] were broken because it took the government a week to speak with mayors. We ran out of cash. Only one radio station survived the hurricane. We have become enslaved by telecommunications, along with our electricity,” he said.